Churches take to streets over smacking bill

By Jennifer Colwill

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki hailed the last-minute changes to the anti-smacking bill as a "glorious victory".

An estimated 800-1000 people gathered outside Parliament at 12.30pm today to protest against the bill and hear Mr Tamaki speak.

The gathering was organised to "maintain public opposition to the passage of the anti-smacking bill", however the wind was knocked out of its sails somewhat by this morning's eleventh-hour change when Labour and National reached an agreement.

The proposed amendment makes it clear police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent where the offence is considered "so inconsequential" there is no public interest in it going ahead.

To huge cheers, Mr Tamaki told the assembled group the amendment was a glorious victory for every good, caring Kiwi parent.

He said it was no surprise to hear the "breaking news" just before today's gathering at Parliament.

"It just happened to be on the same day this rally is happening on their doorstep."

He claimed it was "the voice of the people that had caused the Government to back down".

Addressing the cross-party agreement, Mr Tamaki said: "Why did it take so long to see common sense that most good families already knew?"

Mr Tamaki referred to himself as "an ordinary Kiwi boy that cares for family".

The crowd responded enthusiastically as he spoke, frequently cheering, clapping and affirming him with cries of "That's right".

Some supporters held placards, reading: "A little smack is not abuse it's for safety and respect, it's not a beating"; "Peace in our families -- repeal section 59"; "Bradford's bill is like Ribena" and a "Good parents will not be prosecuted ... yeah right".

Mr Tamaki criticised the amendment to the bill which he said put the onus on "already over-stressed police" to make judgement calls on whether or not to prosecute parents.

He asked how police were to determine when a smack had crossed the line.

"If they think that's going to curb our abuse problems we need to change who's up there," he said, gesturing towards parliament.

"Suspend parliament for a day and every good parent should have the right to go and smack every errant politician," he suggested.

Mr Tamaki said it was preferable that the bill be left alone, adding there were enough existing laws to deal with child abuse.

Independent MP for Mangere and Taito Phillip Field received a rousing reception when he arrived at the gathering and he stood behind Mr Tamaki as he spoke.

No formal agreement has yet been made, but there is the prospect of a political alliance between the former Labour MP and the Destiny Church. This was strengthened with a meeting last week in south Auckland.

Earlier today Mr Field said the amendment made no difference to his opposition to the bill.

"It's really creating an uncertainty and leaving it to police. I think we are really splitting hairs in the wording, I mean it's just a ridiculous situation that it's developed into," he said.

"People should call a spade a spade and make the law clear so there is no confusion."

The gathering was officiated over by former All Black Mark 'Bull' Allen, who told the group some of his five children responded better to a smack as punishment than to a time-out strategy.

Mr Allen said he did not want people who have never met him to tell him how to raise his children.

Meanwhile, at 1pm just up the road at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, an ecumenical church service was held for supporters of the bill.

Church leaders from Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist faiths participated.

Following the service participants walked silently to Parliament and presented prime minister Helen Clark and Sue Bradford with a list of Christian leaders who supported the bill.

- NZPA

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